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Parsha Ki Sisa

02/27/2018 10:15:54 PM


After Moshe descends from the mountain with the two Tablets in hand, he is met by his loyal student and attendant, Yehoshua.  Evidently, Yehoshua’s very “place” was by his teacher Moshe, and he remained at the foot of mountain for the duration of the time Moshe was away.  Yehoshua was therefore absent from the drama of the Golden Calf, and when the loud sounds of celebration around the Calf reached Yehoshua’s ears, he mistook the noises for a response to an aggressive attack, and he exclaimed to Moshe: “The sound of battle is in the camp!”  Correcting Yehoshua, Moshe responded: “Not a sound shouting strength nor a sound shouting weakness; a sound of distress do I hear.”  Although Moshe heard sounds of celebration from the Calf, he still described the sounds as sounds of distress, because Moshe’s discerning ears understood that the excitement and joyous sounds were really masking inner distress and anxiety regarding spiritual connection to God and Moshe.  

The Ramban cites a Midrash that Moshe’s answer to Yehoshua contained a subtle rebuke, as if to say that the leader of the Jews must be able to detect the people’s mood by the way they sound.  Yehoshua’s mistake was no innocuous error of sound-it was failure to discern the correct needs of the people from their sounds.  Still, we are left to grapple with the meaning of Yehoshua’s mistake and the harsh rebuke he received. 

At the end of Parshas Beshalach, when Amalek engaged the Jews in battle, Moshe instructs Yehoshua to lead the people in war, and echoing the idea of the Gemara in Baba Basra 123b, the Midrash explains that the descendants of Eisav, (Amalek) are destined to fall to the hands of the descendants of Rachel. (Yehoshua)  Furthermore, Yehoshua’s main mission as leader of the Jews would be to lead them in battle to conquer Israel, and as such, it was fitting for Yehoshua to lead the war.  The Meshech Chochma explains that it was because of this personal connection to leading the Jews in war against Amalek that Yehoshua mistook the noises to be sounds of war.  It was Yehoshua’s own mission and unique connection to war that led him to think he was hearing war, because he was “hearing through his own ears,” so to speak.  In contrast, Moshe’s connection to the Jews was the ultimate shepherd who tended to each and every need of his flock, understanding their struggles and triumphs, and his discerning ear of leadership recognized the correct interpretation that the sounds were those of distress.  It was for this reason that Moshe was so critical of Yehoshua’s mistake, because by listening through his own perception and personal slant, Yehoshua had failed in listening as a leader to the people themselves.  

We are all guilty of this concept to some extent.  We listen to things, but we listen through our preconceived notions, personal slants, and future agendas instead of objectively listening as leaders.  Sometimes we fail to hear at all and at times our hearing is full of mistakes; rarely do we actually capitalize on our ability to simply listen with a discerning ear that truly wishes to understand the source of the sound.  

However, there is an idea of “different people hearing different things” that can be used in positive light as well to help us self-actualize and connect to our identity.  In the Gemara in Tannis 21, Ilfa and R’ Yochanan had decided to abandon full time Torah study in favor of work, but when R’ Yochanan heard a voice that urged him to return to the study hall, he returned and was later appointed Rosh Yeshiva.  As the Gemara says, Ilfa had not “heard” this voice that R’ Yochanan heard, because it was not meant for him.  Our listening is tainted by our individuality, but specifically so.  It is our biggest gift and yet our biggest challenge-to simulatenously listen as both individuals and leaders.  

Tue, June 15 2021 5 Tammuz 5781